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Author Topic: please help discouraged newby  (Read 828 times)
newtothis22
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« on: September 29, 2017, 04:50:58 PM »

Please tell me what you think of my first five pages. My beta readers liked the story but I am not getting any feedback from an agent, let alone a request for more. What am I doing wrong. Here is the first five pages of my first book called Willa's Dawn. 

Chapter 1
1860
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he maketh me lie down in green pastures he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake.” Willa was kneeling by her dying mother and reciting her mother’s favorite bible verse with her.  Her mother had just been shot, trying to protect Willa’s father who lay dead nearby.  The Culprit was someone they thought of as a friend, but showed otherwise that day. Willa happened to sneak away from the Seminole village where her mother’s people lived and follow her parents. She watched it all go wrong from the shadow of the forest. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” her mother’s voice was fading, Willa could not stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Those were the last words her mother spoke. Willa finished the Psalm in a whisper. “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: though anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever” Willa sat for another moment undisturbed with her mother and then was carefully pulled to her feet by Red Panther the guardian she had evaded to come here. He brought her to her father to say a final goodbye before he led her away. She heard nothing, felt nothing but deep sorrow.  Willa suddenly woke from her familiar dream to remember she was on her uncle’s ship.  She wiped the last of her tears away and said a prayer for her parents she lost so long ago and the sister she lost more recently. She laid in the bed a little longer letting the familiar rock and sway of the ship sooth her. They had just left Spain and were on their way to France on a leisure trip for her, and business for her uncle. He had bought out her father’s partner and took over the shipping business. Willa enjoyed helping where she could, she was good with numbers and business. Willa stretched and climbed from her bunk. She didn’t want to wake her maid Alese so early so she dressed simply. Remembering the bitter sweetness of this trip she wanted to take in as much as she could.  Her final destination was England where she would have to choose between two brothers for a husband.  Willa did not want either one but her father had made a contract for her when she was a babe to marry a son of his best friend. Her sister Margaret was to marry the other.  It was all because of some land in Scotland that the friend foolishly bet in a card game with her father and lost. They were best friends, both sons of younger sons of the aristocracy. They started their shipping business together and became wealthy over the years. Her father’s best friend Ian Sinclair bet the land his father passed down to him south of Wick in Scotland and lost it to William.  Willa’s father knew how much that land meant to Ian so he made a deal that would save Ian’s pride and protect his own daughters.  Ian had two sons and William had two daughters. The deal was that the dowry for one daughter would be the land and the dowry for the other a large sum. He didn’t count on his oldest daughter dying before she could marry but the lawyers who wrote up the contract did. The remaining child would choose between the other two and she would come with the entire dowry.  Willa could avoid it no longer, she had put the Sinclair men off for years now. She was eighteen and they insisted that she come to England and meet her betrothed. Her aunt Patricia who raised her and uncle Peter who was one of her guardians finally put their foot down. They made the plans for her to travel to England on her uncle’s ship soon after her eighteenth birthday. She still had some sway with her uncle Peter, he loved her like a daughter and agreed to take a few detours on the way.  She stepped on deck and the wind whipped her hair in her face. She impatiently pushed the strands that came free from her braid behind her ears. The sun was rising and she went to the rail to watch the beauty of the sea unfold. The view was breathtaking. The sun was just beginning to inch up over the edge of the water with orange, red and gold proceeding it making the clouds glow. The wind was chilly compared to the Caribbean where their first stop was. She began to feel the cold as they left Spain. She pulled her cloak more tightly around herself. This wasn’t her first trip on her uncle’s ship but her first to Europe. She had never been so far from home but while she was she would take advantage of it and pursue her passion, helping orphans. They were going to be arriving in France that day and then go on to Ireland after that. The last stop was to be in Scotland to see the land that was hers and the house that her sister and the oldest Sinclair son had designed and built in anticipation of their wedding.  Her sister had lived with the Sinclair’s since she was sixteen so the couple could get to know each other better. They became friends but on Margaret’s last trip home, before the wedding, a storm sunk her ship. Willa missed her sister dreadfully it had only been two years since she died. They were close despite the separation the sisters wrote to each other constantly and told each other everything.  Willa being the more creative one even helped Maggie to design her home unbeknownst to Liam the oldest Sinclair. Margaret was the mature steady sister that kept the wild Willa under control.  Willa was nervous about seeing the Sinclair boys again, they had visited her home in Pennsylvania a couple of times.  Willa thought their accent was funny and liked to pull pranks on them.  She did get the younger brother Collin involved in some on the last trip.  They were both little hellions and played pranks on the older Liam.  She wondered if she would still have as much in common with Collin since he was her most likely choice.  They were the closest in age and that was who she was originally supposed to marry.  She knew that Liam thought she was a brat back then and probably still thought that. She was a late blooming fourteen when she had last seen the brothers.  What would they be like now she wondered. The sun was rising higher and blinding her so she turned away from it to lean against the rail. She looked up at her uncle’s first mate Riley steering the ship. He was a very large gruff man who had been with her Uncle for as long as she could remember. He was always kind to Willa and they had a standing joke. She was always curious about his origins but he never told her where he came from. She had been asking every time she saw him since she was a child and his answer was always someplace different. She smiled at the memory of his latest claim. He didn’t even wait for her to ask he must have noticed the mischievous look in her eyes and he blurted out Egypt and walked away smiling before she could question him. She burst out laughing because he was a blond haired blue eyed giant and looked like what she thought a Viking should. She turned back to the water as she noticed Red Panther had come up from below and was walking towards her.  He was still her guardian after all these years. He was a younger cousin of Willa’s mother, from her Seminole tribe.  Her mother was a relative to Wildcat the Seminole war chief. After the death of her parents they stayed with the tribe for a few months before being sent to Pennsylvania to live with her father’s sister, husband and son.  Her Aunt Patricia didn’t have daughters and loved the girls like they were her own.  Her aunt was a plump congenial woman who took her wifely and motherly duties seriously. She gave the girls a certain freedom on their property knowing they had their Seminole guardian. Wildcat sent Red Panther with the girls to guide them and watch over them.  His brother later came up from Florida to join Maggie in England and died on the trip back with her.  Red Panther was Willa’s best friend and knew her well.  “You had the dream again, didn’t you?” Red Panther asked looking concerned. She looked up at him, he was tall and broad shouldered. His straight silky hair was to his shoulders and ink black. His eyes were so dark most people thought they were black. Not that they looked at them long. He always wore a serious and forbidding frown around strangers but they softened for her.  He had the dark skin of his people and the proud bearing of his ancestors. Willa sighed, sometimes she wished he didn’t know her so well she didn’t want to discuss her parent’s death or her recurring dream right now so she changed the subject. She took her hands from the rail and leaned her hip on the side to face him.  “Have you decided how long you will stay with me after I marry?” She asked quietly. It wasn’t a subject she liked much better but it needed to be handled. Once Willa was married Red Panther was free to return home and start a family.  She felt guilty that he hadn’t been able to take a wife because of her but not guilty enough to give him up.  He was with her every day since her parents were killed and she didn’t know what she would do without him. He stared pensively out over the water for a moment before he answered, “I will not leave you until I know that you are settled and I am confident that you are well taken care of.”
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jcwrites
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« Reply #1 on: September 29, 2017, 06:59:17 PM »

Right off the bat, what you've posted is visually intimidating. You have upwards of seven to eight manuscript pages without a single paragraph or dialog break. When the eye encounters a block of "grey space" that big, it automatically turns away. Any agent receiving this is going to hit the reject button. Guaranteed.

The remedy?... Break it up. Every line of dialog uttered by a different character should start a new paragraph. As to how to delineate parapraphs in narrative, well, that's part of the writing craft.

Below I'll give you a few in-line comments in red.


Chapter 1
1860
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he maketh me lie down in green pastures he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake.” You're opening with unattributed dialog. Start by telling us who is doing the speaking. It wouldn't hurt to show us where this is happening--indoors, in a forest, on a spaceship. At this point the reader knows nothing; you have to ground them.

Willa was kneeling by her dying mother and reciting her mother’s favorite bible verse with her. See, this should have preceeded the dialog.

Her mother had just been shot, trying to protect Willa’s father who lay dead nearby. You're telling us what happened instead of showing us. Action like this should be presented in narrative form, where we can 'see' the mother getting shot, 'see' what happened to the father.

The Culprit was someone they thought of as a friend, but showed otherwise that day. Willa happened to sneak away from the Seminole village where her mother’s people lived and follow her parents. She watched it all go wrong from the shadow of the forest. The flow of the action is confusing because you've dipped further into back-story. Start your scene at a point where it can flow in chronological story time.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” her mother’s voice was fading, Willa could not stop the tears rolling down her cheeks. Now we're back to present time, but it's the mother who's speaking instead of Willa. You can do that, but the switch from Willa to her mother should be made obvious through action.

I'll stop here.


My advice is read, read, read books in your genre. Notice how the authors "stage manage" their characters, how they build scenes, break narrative into paragraphs, work dialog into the action. There's nothing magical about it; ninety percent of it simply knowing the "rules". (And once you know them, then you can break them.)

Again: read, read, read.

Good luck.
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newtothis22
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« Reply #2 on: September 30, 2017, 12:37:42 PM »

jcwrites, thank you, that was amazingly helpful. I do read, read, read. Probably more than my husband would like, but I will do so now with a different focus.   embarrassed
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newtothis22
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« Reply #3 on: September 30, 2017, 06:43:49 PM »

     Here is a revised version. I know, I can hear the sigh coming already. Just bear with me. I tried to take the advice given with my changes but wanted to be sure I was on the right track before I continued. Thanks again. I was extremely nervous about posting my pages but now I am just grateful to have some direction. Thanks again for any help.                                                                                       
                                                                                                 Chapter 1
                                                                                                    1860
     In the dense forest of Florida, a young woman’s blood seeped into the dirt and leaves below her with sickening regularity. She heard the last breaths of her husband moments after she hit the ground. She had done her best to save the man she loved and failed. The betrayal of a man her husband counted as a friend had shocked them both. She looked up into the knowing, tear filled eyes of her youngest daughter, reaching out she took her daughters small hand in hers. She began reciting her favorite psalms to bring them both comfort as she felt life slipping away.
“The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want, he maketh me lie down in green pastures he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name sake.”

     Willa, kneeling by her dying mother joined in the recitation.  She had disobeyed her parents and snuck away from the Seminole village where her mother’s people lived, to follow them. She watched it all go wrong from the shadow of the forest.

     “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me”
Her mother’s voice was fading, Willa could not stop the tears rolling down her cheeks.

      “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Those were the last words Lenora Taylor spoke.
 Willa held her mother’s limp hand tightly as she finished the Psalm in a whisper. “Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: though anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever”
 
      Willa sat for another moment undisturbed with her mother and then was carefully pulled to her feet by Red Panther, the guardian she had evaded to come here. He brought her to her father to say a final goodbye before he led her away. She heard nothing, felt nothing but deep sorrow.  Numb to the beauty of the green canopy overhead and the birds who resumed their chatter.

                                                                                                  Chapter 2
       Willa suddenly woke from her familiar dream to remember she was on her uncle’s ship.  She wiped the last of her tears away and said a prayer for the parents she lost so long ago and the sister she lost more recently. She laid in the bed a little longer letting the familiar rock and sway of the ship sooth her.

       They had just left Spain and were on their way to France on a pleasure trip for her, and business for her uncle. Her uncle bought out her father’s partner after his death and took over the shipping business. Willa enjoyed helping where she could, she was good with numbers and business.

       Willa stretched and climbed from her bunk. She didn’t want to wake her maid Alese so early so she dressed simply. Remembering the bitter sweetness of this trip she wanted to take in as much as she could.  Her final destination was England, where she would have to choose between two brothers for a husband.
 
       Willa did not want to marry either man but her father had made a contract for her when she was a babe to marry a son of his best friend. Her sister Margaret was to marry the other.  It was all because of some land in Scotland that the friend foolishly bet in a card game with her father and lost.
 
      The men were best friends, both sons of younger sons of the aristocracy. They started their shipping business together and became wealthy over the years. Her father’s best friend Ian Sinclair bet the land his father passed down to him south of Wick in Scotland and lost it to William.  Willa’s father knew how much that land meant to Ian so he made a deal that would save Ian’s pride and protect his own daughters.
 
      Ian had two sons and William, two daughters. The deal was that the dowry for one daughter would be the land and the dowry for the other a large sum. He didn’t count on his oldest daughter dying before she could marry but the lawyers who wrote up the contract did. The remaining child would choose between the other two and she would come with the entire dowry.
 
      Willa could avoid it no longer, she had put the Sinclair men off for years now. She was eighteen and they insisted that she come to England and meet her betrothed. Her aunt Patricia, her father’s sister, who raised her and uncle Peter, her father’s brother, who was one of her guardians, finally put their foot down.
 
      They made the plans for her to travel to England on her uncle’s ship soon after her eighteenth birthday. Willa still had some sway with her uncle Peter, he loved her like a daughter and agreed to take a few detours on the way.
 
      Willa stepped on deck and the wind whipped her hair in her face. She impatiently pushed the strands that came free from her braid behind her ears. The sun was rising and she went to the rail to watch the beauty of the sea unfold. The view was breathtaking. The sun was just beginning to inch up over the edge of the water with orange, red and gold proceeding it making the clouds glow. The wind was chilly compared to the Caribbean where their first stop was. She began to feel the cold as they left Spain. She pulled her cloak more tightly around herself. This wasn’t her first trip on her uncle’s ship but her first to Europe. She had never been so far from home but while she was, she would take advantage of it and pursue her passion. Helping orphans. Her second goal being to avoid marriage to a virtual stranger and return to America.
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samcantcook
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2017, 01:04:55 PM »

Much better opening. You've established the setting and also have a great opening hook. My attention perked up immediately from
Quote
a young woman’s blood seeped into the dirt and leaves below her with sickening regularity
Immediately you've given us conflict and stakes. Well done!
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maryj59
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2017, 09:18:02 AM »

I agree with Sam. This is so much better! I understand it now and the first paragraph is a grabber. Well done!

Others may chime in with some tightening and minor fixes, but this is an enormous improvement already. Keep going!
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debbie.rosenberg58
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« Reply #6 on: October 06, 2017, 12:47:18 PM »

I agree the edited version is much better, BUT there is more improvement needed. For example, you've begun seven paragraph's with "Willa."  Also, most of the first part is reciting the prayer.  Honestly, I think the opening is a little confusing. You're trying hard to "tell" a story. Clearly you have a story to tell, but in fiction, it is very important to "show."

Have you read Debra Dixon's Goals, Motivation and Conflicts? To me, this is the ABC of fiction writing. Each scene must have these elements for the story to come together and shine.  A scene chart can be a very useful tool as well.

You might not need the opening scene. What if Willa were on the ship in the opening? You can portray the era with the clothes and tools, either leaving Florida (and painful tragedy behind) or approaching England (again, leaving the pain behind.)  The reader is in Florida in the opening, then aboard a ship where both Spain and France are mentioned. See what I mean about confusing?

Maybe try an opening scene in which the ship is getting close to port. Willa can instruct her maid what she wants to wear and why (but through dialogue). She can take a meal with her uncle if he is on board with her. Lots of things can remind her of the tragedy.

The reader must be curious and interested about the character right from the beginning to want to read further. You have given us a reason - a tragedy she experienced. What do her words and actions say about her? Is she terrified of where she's going, or does she embrace a new beginning? She can lead the maid and/or uncle and crew in a prayer to getting them safely to shore; this shows she's religious. Or maybe she can't say the prayer because she's traumatized by the tragedy she experienced.

The point is, focus on your protagonist and set the scene. Don't spill too much (called "info dumping). Show, instead through action and dialogue.

Your story seems very ambitious. This is a good thing. I personally love books about different times and travels. Just remember, character is vital. Willa must jump off the page as a whole person.

Try reading Goals, Motivation and Conflict. Another book that was extraordinarily helpful is Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley. These are available to download onto e readers (cheap and fast!)

Also, don't worry about posting your work here. We're all in this community together. Other writers have been extremely generous to me in terms of incite and support.

Keep going.


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gckatz
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« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2017, 01:51:02 PM »

Yeah, while this is an improvement, it still has a lot of major issues, I'm afraid. For starters, there's head-hopping: The first paragraph is from the dying mother's POV, and then it switches to Willa's POV.

The amount of telling is also a problem, as others have mentioned. Let's just look at this opening paragraph. I've highlighted passages of telling in red.

Quote
In the dense forest of Florida, a young woman’s blood seeped into the dirt and leaves below her with sickening regularity. She heard the last breaths of her husband moments after she hit the ground. She had done her best to save the man she loved and failed. The betrayal of a man her husband counted as a friend had shocked them both. She looked up into the knowing, tear filled eyes of her youngest daughter, reaching out she took her daughters small hand in hers. She began reciting her favorite psalms to bring them both comfort as she felt life slipping away.

The issue here is that you're trying to communicate a ton of information about where they are, who they are, and what happened in the very first paragraph. But we don't need to know any of that right now. All we need to know is that there's a dead man, a dying woman, and a mourning girl. Once we've been emotionally centered by the feelings and images of that scene, then you can start explaining who they are and why they're there.
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newtothis22
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« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2017, 12:44:07 PM »

Thanks, working on revisions and all your opinions are very helpful.  wink2
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